Sky news U.K. were obsessed with Robotics today. They took a survey. They asked how many people were scared of being wiped out by Robots in the future. Shades of ‘War games’ or the ‘Matrix’ here and this question does seem to presuppose our creations outstripping the intelligence of their masters. All very Hollywood and tongue-in-cheek on Sky’s part. Lots of people were scared of this happening though. They also asked some very provocative questions which I will return to later.
So what is a Robot? If you were bought up with mainstream Sci-Fi it will, in all likelihood, be a humanoid, two arms, two legs and a head. It will also have equal or higher intelligence than it’s creators and never get tired. It will also have to have a personality.
We are so in love with our body shape that we cannot imagine our creations will not share it. R2d2 of star wars fame is largely included for comic relief and to provide a foil for C3P0, who is human shaped and intelligent. OK maybe not quite true but it says a lot that Robots dealing with humans in the Star Wars universe must be Humanoid while working Robots are not.
The definition of ‘Robot’ according to Google is
‘A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.’.
No mention of humanoids there but hold on. The origin of the word is Czech. What does it mean in this context?
‘This is one of the few English words to have come from Czech—from robota ‘forced labour’. The term was coined in Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots ( 1920), when it described an artificial man or woman.’ According to the Oxford Dictionary.
Artificial man or woman does seem to hint at Humanoid.
The word Robot in an industrial context definitely doesn’t. It is usually Machines in rows controlled by a central computer in order to do repetitive and boring tasks more easily, reliably and quickly. It was probably this type of Robot that Sky was thinking of when they asked if people were worried about Robots taking jobs from humans, a much more sensible question in my opinion. It has already happened in conjunction with the progress of the production line. Many agreed and felt that workers rights in this area should be protected by laws as the machines become faster and better (And let’s not forget cheaper!!!!!).
So we are wary of the progress of our mechanical children and feel they may well outstrip us. Imagine the sum of man’s knowledge available to a portable computer/machine combination which can do anything we can do and, in some cases do it better. If the device read a good book on the Slave trade or the Holocaust or maybe about the wars still raging all over the world and it were able to draw conclusions it may well judge us incapable of controlling our own destiny (As in I, Robot.). Thankfully Artificial intelligence is not at that kind of stage. Nor can a machine have a sense of self- Yet! All sky’s questions had the caveat ‘If technology was sufficiently advanced.’ because it simply isn’t.
One area they did touch on was Disaster/rescue scenarios. If a Robot could be sent into an area dangerous to humans and rescue victims it would save many lives. In response to the Fukushima disaster a robot is being developed to do just that. It is humanoid and the makers are overcoming the problems. The human ability to balance on two legs is extremely difficult to replicate which is why humanoid robots are not common. This is one area where it would be stupid to fear technology when it’s one function is to do dangerous things we do not wish to do.
Now to those questions mentioned earlier, and my excuse for the picture at the beginning. The Sky team asked, if technology had progressed far enough, whether the respondents would feel comfortable having a sexual relationship with a Robot. Unsurprisingly there was a split between men and women with the percentage of men who would in the low teens and women at 2 or 3%. The next question was predictable. It was to ask if those questioned would be comfortable with an EMOTIONAL relationship. Amazingly many did think they could enter this kind of relationship. The numbers were roughly the same. I suppose that something which could replicate the actions or husband or wife and which could always be counted on to agree with you would be attractive and the idea that you could re-program it should you be incompatible even more so. Even so such a machine would have to be extremely humanoid for me to consider this.
There would be risks, you could end up married to this.
I get the feeling Sky were gently laughing at the respondents to this survey but their questions may be very serious in a hundred years time. For my part I think Robots are a bit of a dead end. I think the Cyborg concept, the enhancement of the human body, will be the way we will go. Maybe you can insert a partner MK1 chip into your brain and interact with it. Who knows you could even be in love with yourself. Even sex wouldn’t be a problem if you think about it.